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Government digital chief joins Aaron Swartz tributes

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The death of 26-year-old internet activist and co-creator of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, has unleashed an outpouring of sympathy and tributes online. But none of the eulogies are perhaps as surprising as the one written yesterday by Mike Bracken.

While Bracken's comments – praising Swartz's “unbridled eagerness to apply the toolkit of the internet age in the service of civil society,” – were in keeping with many of the sentiments expressed online, what made them unusual is Bracken's job, and the place he published the comments.

For those that weren't immediately aware, Bracken is the executive director of Digital at the Cabinet Office. The comments were published on the Government Digital Service blog.

Prior to his death, Swartz had been pursued by the legal authorities in the US, for his involvement in the unauthorised downloading of academic papers. 

While his prosecution has been widely condemned by internet activists, it is highly unusual to have government officials pay tribute to those suspected of breaking the law.

"We are shocked and saddened by the death of Aaron Swartz. Some of us at GDS were fortunate to have met him; others were involved in the many projects he worked on; all of us are in some way indebted to his legacy," he wrote.

In a footnote, Bracken explains his thinking behind making, what he recognised might be a controversial post.

"I understand this may seem the wrong place for these sentiments but we also believe in openness and we think that government departments should behave as though there are humans in them," he said.

"This is from our human side. I apologise in advance if anyone thinks I made the wrong call. That decision was all mine."

At V3, we welcome Bracken's comments. If he can keep such principles in tact in the delivery of digital services in the UK, we're all likely to be the better for it.

17 Jan 2013

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